Torrin & Elgol

The single track road B8083 to Torrin and Elgol leaves Broadford immediately East of Broadford Hotel and windingly wends its way slowly around the landscape, demanding a very relaxed driving style. Visitors are encouraged to use the passing places to let local (faster) drivers pass. The passing places are frequently also be used to gasp at the scenery while trying to capture its magic, magnitude and stark beauty on camera.

The road passes Cill Chroisd, a sixteenth century church and graveyard that is worthy of mention. From here there is a 10 mile walk along the old railway line, across the limestone pavement to Borrereag and Susanish clearance villages. Walks up the Cuillins and between them abound but they should not to be undertaken on impulse. While many of these walks are suitable for children and novices in good weather, deaths can and do occur. If you are not confident hiring a guide is an excellent option.

As the road approaches Torrin, the marble quarry can be seen to the left just as the Cuillins rise spectacularly close on the right. The name ‘Torrin’ comes from the Gaelic Na Torrain misleadingly meaning ‘the little hills’. In Torrin, where the views become particularly arresting, there is a café and accommodation and a scattering of Skye’s ubiquitous white houses and sycamore trees. Room 13 is a distinctive red roofed byre inside which is an amazing artist’s studio which holds open days, exhibitions and fundraisers, it is the antithesis of all things pretentious in art.

Nine miles further along the road, Elgol perches attractively on a steep hillside with the road hair-pinning down to the pier. This has always been an important port and the past is quite tangible here. It does not take a wealth of imagination to conjure up a crofter’s wife carrying fish in a basket on her back. There are beautifully restored croft-houses to stay in and the entrepreneurial crofting spirit is still in evidence here. The village hall multitasks as a grocery-craft-shop-come café. The name ‘Elgol’ may derive from either Norse or Gaelic or a mixture of the two. It is interpreted as ‘the field of the wild angelica’ or ’weeping swan’ or ‘the noble dale’. There was reported to be a Viking ship called ‘The swan’ that sank before it could land here but the truth is lost in time.

Boat trips operate from Elgol Pier offering sea-life tours, daytrips and transportation to the Cuillins and small isles. A favourite is to Loch Coruisg, a glacial lake in the heart of the Cuillins. Deeper than sea level it is famous for its cold, clear water. There was once reported to be a monster living here but as he has not been seen for over a century it is probably safe to swim.

Elgol boasts two romantically famous caves, accessible only by boat or with careful reference to the tides. Spar Cave is a magnificent 50m long marble cave near Glasnakille. In the ninth century, when clans were always warring with one another, the young chief of Colonsay was shipwrecked here on enemy soil. His luck was such that he survived the shipwreck and was secretly coaxed back to health by the daughter of his enemy. On such fertile soil as this the seeds of love were sewn and the princess soon became pregnant. She helped her lover to escape and then birthed the babe in secret and hid it in the spar cave with her loyal servant. She came to the cave every day to feed the infant. Eventually peace was restored and she was wedded to the chief of Colonsay. It may even be true that they lived happily ever after.

Not so for the occupant of the other cave. In 1746 after defeat at Culloden, Bonnie Prince Charlie came to ‘over the sea to Skye’ and was hidden by the local Jacobites. The Redcoats were closing in however and known Jacobite residences were no longer safe so the young Prince was reduced to hiding in Bonnie Prince Charlie's cave, before he finally fled Skye, Scotland, abandoning the cause of the Jacobites forever.